Last Friday, I was one of the crazy people. I woke up early and trekked over to the Mall of America. Not to shop–but to work, and observe. In case you didn’t hear the Mall organized a fairly large Black Friday event centered squarely around QR codes.
Wait, what? An event centered around QR codes you say? Aren’t they supposed to be a tool? One piece of the puzzle?
Yes–that is true. But, in this case, the Mall used the codes both as a tool AND as the focal point of the event.
Here’s how they set it up. The Mall promoted the “Snap & Win” event as the “best Black Friday deal ever” for 300 lucky guests. The Mall of America rotunda floor featured a 50 X 30-foot MOA logo made up entirely of QR codes. Those 300 pre-wrist-banded guests (selected in order in which they arrived, I believe) scanned these codes at 6 a.m., 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. to win prizes ranging from $150 gift cards to a $1,000 shopping spree (the “grand prize”). There’s also a chance for guests to win another $1,000 shopping spree from Black Friday thru Dec. 23 by snapping codes found in the food court, on digital signage around the Mall and on t-shirts worn by guest services staff.
Interesting, right? At the very least, different.
So, I woke up at the butt-crack of dawn on Black Friday to get a glimpse of this event first-hand. Here were my immediate observations:
* Extremely well-run event. As with most Mall of America events, this one was very well run. All the i’s were dotted and all the t’s were crossed. Participants lined up in the rotunda to stand over their code, at which time they snapped it and lined up again to receive their prizes. MOA digital strategist, Lisa Grimm emceed the event and there were at least 20-plus staff on hand to assist.
* Big points for creativity. MOA knows how to make a splash. I don’t think we’ve seen anything quite like this yet. It was a very unique way to use QR codes to not only drive awareness for MOA on the biggest shopping day of the year, but also to drive traffic in-store to MOA retailers (yet to be determined as of this writing).
* MOA took advantage of its biggest resources. For MOA, their biggest advantages in terms of marketing are (in my view): 1) The mall space itself and the thousands of people who walk the halls each and every day, 2) Overall brand recognition, and 3) Their digital outposts (their Facebook page has 304,000-plus “likes” to date. This event took keen advantage of all three.
* They made the offer worth it. Who doesn’t want a $1,000 shopping spree during the busiest shopping weekend of the year? I mean, that’s a pretty good offer–especially for what amounted to minimal work on the part of the guest. And, the other prizes weren’t too bad either. As people scanned their codes, Grimm announced a few of the winners. Those $150 gift cards were flying all over the place.
From what I could tell, the event was a big hit. And, the Mall folks were essentially saying as much immediately after it was finished. But, as I soaked it all in and thought about what the Mall has done here, a few key questions kept popping up:
* Did the event really drive additional traffic for retailers? Unanswered at the time of this writing, according to the Mall folks. I’m a bit skeptical here. My thought: The people who won the gift cards were really only in it for the free stuff. So yeah, they’ll go in-store and use their gift card. They may even buy a few more items. But, did OTHER people visit these stores as a result of the event? I’m not so sure. However, it should be noted that the Mall did eclipse its record for Black Friday traffic by 10,000 visitors last week. So, there’s a general Mall traffic metric baked in here, too.
* Were people just out for free stuff? Again, I think the answer is yes. But, the bigger question is whether the free stuff was a big enough carrot to get other people in the retail stores around the Mall (not just the people who won the free stuff). If the event can’t drive additional store traffic, I’m really not sure you can call it a huge success from a business point of view. That said, the Mall says it has 1,000 people already signed up for the “Win $1,000” campaign now thru Dec. 23, so again, from an awareness point of view, the campaign/event seems to already be a success.
* Was it worth the investment in time and resources for MOA? According to Grimm, the event had 18 people working on this event on Black Friday (mostly full-time MOA staff who work on things like this regularly). But, it was the pre-event work that racked up the hours. 120 (roughly) in total, according to Grimm. That’s a big (although not huge) number. Assume a blended agency-type rate of $150 (which might be a bit low depending on what level of employees we’re talking about) and you’re looking at $18,000 just for “man-hours.” And, according to Grimm, the physical investment was under $20,000. So, all told you’re probably looking at around $35-40,000 all told with materials and time. That’s no small number. But without key metrics at this point, it’s hard to say if it was worth it or not. This one’s still incomplete.
* Will the Mall achieve its goals with this event? According to Grimm, MOA had three goals with this event. 1) Drive traffic and sales to Mall retailers. 2) Generate $500,000 in earned media value. And 3) Drive awareness for QR codes and how to use them. I think #1 is still up in the air, as we’ve discussed. But the fact that the Mall already has 1,000 people signed up for the “Win $1,000” campaign that runs from now thru Dec. 23 bodes well. I’m also guessing they may hit #2. I noticed a number of media outlets at the event and noticed a few pickups that day. Not sure the third goal really makes sense though. I mean, driving awareness for QR codes is fine and all, but is it really a business goal? I’m not so sure about that one. Feels more like a by-product of the process (and one I’m not even sure I’d be worrying about).
All in all, a pretty creative execution and an interesting way to inject technology into one of the biggest shopping days of the year at the Mall. As with most QR code campaigns, I’m a bit skeptical on the business value of this event, but time will tell on that front, and the Mall may very well achieve its business goals. The early returns were pretty good–a 10,000 increase in Black Friday visitors year-over-year (although you certainly can’t attribute all those folks to the event) and 1,000 people already signed up for the “Win $1,000” extension of this event.
What do you think? Was this a successful event for the Mall of America? Or, was it another attempt to use a new technology for the sake of using a new technology? Curious to hear what you think about this one.
Disclaimer: The Mall of America is a former (but not current) client of ACH Communications.
I’ve long been skeptical of the QR code madness among marketers. Sure, I’ve read all sorts of numbers around QR code adoption–good and bad. But many of the studies still pin *understanding* (not adoption) of QR codes in the 30 percent range. So, I tend to think, as a rule, QR codes are pretty over-hyped among marketers.
Follow my logic for a moment. For any brand to be successful using QR codes, your customers would need to follow a few steps. 1) They would need to understand what a QR code is and how it works (see 30 percent number). 2) They would need to have a smartphone AND a QR code scanner on their phones (numbers of smart phone users have recently been identified around 50 percent–those with QR code readers is most likely a smaller percentage). 3) They would need to see the QR code AND be compelled enough to take 1-3 minutes to scan it and consume the content you’re driving them to. 4) Your content would need to be compelling enough to get them to take action–the ultimate end goal.
I might argue that’s an awfully damn tall order to get a customer to do steps 1-4 as outlined above. A DAMN tall order.
And that thinking is partially what drove my little experiment on Black Friday at the Mall of America.
You see, we’ve seen a number of examples of brands using the codes in their marketing efforts–so we know what the brands are thinking/hoping to achieve. But, what we haven’t seen a lot of is the user experience side of this equation and what that really looks like and means for brand awareness, loyalty and ultimately, purchase.
My goal was simple: To look at the user experience side of QR codes on the biggest shopping day of the year (Black Friday) at the biggest mall in the U.S. (the Mall of America) and analyze the results and lay out some key learnings and lessons for brands considering using QR codes.
I looked at two key areas: Creativity and Execution. For the purposes of this experiment, I just looked at in-store signage at the Mall, even though I’m fully aware there are other executions that include QR codes (print advertising, for example). Just needed some focus.
I reviewed 9 brands at the Mall, plus the Mall of America itself since they were organizing a unique event centered around QR codes (more on that in a post later this week). And, I attempted to grade each brand, just so we could prioritize and put a bit of a “curve” around this experiment (as unscientific as that is).
Let’s get to it.
What I scanned:
Creativity: No huge points for creativity here, but the code is part of a branded campaign on the Sketchers store-front.
Execution: First, the video the code links to is three-plus minutes. I don’t want to watch a three-minute video at home on my laptop, let alone on my mobile device. That’s just way too long. The video discusses the concept of “minimal shoes” and Sketchers take on that and their proprietary technology. Interesting stuff, but again, not worth three minutes of my time while I’m standing in front of your store.
What I scanned:
Creativity: Unique execution here, using QR codes as part of a larger holiday recruiting campaign for Old Navy. The signage was clear and easy to understand, and the QR code fit nicely into that package.
Execution: The scan took you directly to the Gap.com recruiting page, which featured corporate, design, warehouse and store positions. Pretty straightforward. The only thing I would have done differently here would be to direct people to a specific landing page with store-only positions. After all, that’s what they were seeking–why mess around with the corporate and design jobs, which fell right at the top of the page?
What I scanned:
Creativity: Lane Bryant certainly isn’t the first brand to drive QR code scanners to a YouTube video. And they definitely aren’t the first to drive people to a “behind-the-scenes” video. Not many points for creativity here in my view.
Execution: The video is well done, and it’s short (under a minute). So, that piece works. But, the video doesn’t solve my problem, give me a deal/coupon or provide me other information I don’t already have. It’s merely a standard behind-the-scenes video starring some relatively attractive women without tops on (that was clearly their attention-getter).
What I scanned:
Creativity: Admittedly, this sign was part of a promotion Macy’s unveiled a while ago. I was excited to see this in-store, but could only find a handful of these signs around. I’m guessing this “campaign” was over–yet, they still had the signs in store (foreshadowing alert!).
Execution: Anytime the folks scanning QR codes are taken to a landing page with the words “404–File Not Found”, well, that’s not a good thing. In fact, I think that qualifies as an unmitigated failure. I know the campaign is over, so why not take the signs down completely? More of an operations issue than anything, but part of a larger lesson for Macy’s.
Grade: F (I can’t not give them an F here–not trying to be harsh)
What I scanned:
Creativity: The QR code on the Columbia store-front includes no mention of what to expect when I scan the code. No accompanying signage. Not any kid of explantation around what it is even, for the uninitiated.
Execution: The video’s actually not half-bad. It talks about a “body heat management system” (that’s too good to make up, folks) named “Omni Heat.” The video explains what Omni Heat is, and even includes a nice graphic that lays it all out. The rest of the video features young people engaging in outdoor activities (skiing, tubing), wearing Columbia gear with this Omni Heat layered in. Nothing unique here–but a nice explanation of the technology.
What I scanned:
Creativity: Not much creativity here–in the signage or the landing page. The signage does tell me I can expect a deal, but not much more.
Execution: Classic case of not planning for the execution. As you can see above, after I scanned the code, I was directed to a site that is clearly not optimized for mobile use. I can’t see the offers. I can’t even tell what site I’m on. If you’re going to take all the time to direct me to a site where I’m guessing I can actually buy your products, you better be damn sure it’s optimized for a mobile device to I can buy said product on my phone.
What I scanned:
Creativity: The signage is clear, easy to understand and tells me exactly what I’m going to get when I scan the code. The idea behind the program is fairly straight-forward for a social program. Asking you to tell Roxy why you and your “BFF” deserve to win and encouraging you to get the word out. But, it was the only such program I saw affiliated with a QR code while at the Mall.
Execution: Here’s the thing with this idea–it’s just too hard and takes too much time for someone who just scanned the code standing outside your store-front. I mean, I like the idea. But, to ask someone to not only scan the code, but THEN to also fill out their name, email address, zip code, date of birth, and tell a story about why you and your BFF deserve to win (in less than 250 characters) is almost unrealistic. I’d be curious to know how many people have actually done this. I just think that’s a lot to ask of someone who’s standing outside your store on their phone.
What I scanned:
Creativity: No huge creativity point here. Just a straight-forward way to get customers to download the AE app for exclusive deals and content.
Execution: Not all that sexy, but I like this approach. I like that they tell customers exactly what they’ll get when they scan the code (the AE app). I like that the landing page tells you exactly what the app will deliver, including a bulleted list of all the relevant features. And, I really like the app itself (and I’m not even a AE shopper). It offers a rewards program, a “style mixer” program, mobile-only offers and it even offered me 20% off my first app purchase.
What I scanned:
Creativity: The in-store signage is great, but it’s all about Facebook. The code is buried in the Facebook messaging. Now, that may be their point. Maybe they’re just using the code to direct people to their Facebook page. As you can see from the landing page, that doesn’t come across in the execution.
Execution: The landing page I was sent to was clean, easy to navigate and laid out very well for a mobile device. But, it doesn’t align with the signage and my initial point of contact. If they want people to “like” them on Facebook, why not just direct people straight to their Facebook page? Or, a landing page with a link to the Facebook page? Bit of a disconnect for me here, even though the landing page was well done technically.
American Eagle (using QR codes to get people to sign up for the AE app, which encourages e-commerce and loyalty)
Old Navy (using QR codes as part of a larger holiday recruiting strategy)
Macy’s (scan took me to a dead page)
Ultra Diamonds (scan took me to a site that wasn’t optimized for mobile devices)
* Make sure the site you’re driving customers to is optimized for mobile use. If it’s not, you’re wasting your time–and, more importantly, your customers.
* Think about the action you’re asking customers to take. Think about QR codes just like any other marketing tactic. What do you want people to do as a result of the effort? What’ the call to action? Is it clear? Is it easy to understand? Is it compelling?
* Make sure you set expectations clearly. Since there is such a lack of understanding around these codes, expectations must be crystal clear. I can’t over-emphasize this enough. Tell me what I’m going to get before I get it. And, then deliver. Make damn sure you deliever.
* Keep it simple. REALLY simple. Don’t get too cute with your QR code campaign. Instead, keep it straight-forward (see setting expectations above). The technology is complex enough–don’t ask your customers to do too much.